Is this blog introducing only Japanese menus?
No. Although it is named as “Mindful Japanese Cooking,” I am introducing pure Japanese menus, non-Japanese menus, as well as many different fusions of the two, which are my daily diet. Having lived in different Western countries for many years, I fell in love with their foods, learned about them through my eyes, labor, as well as taste pallet, and eventually, I found my way to incorporate them into my Japanese approach of cooking.
Therefore, even when I am introducing a sandwich, pasta, big salad, or any kind of non-traditional Japanese food, you can probably sense some hints of Japanese flavor in my approach. I always try to bring a healthy balance, value simplicity, and treat each procedure with care. There are also times when I use Japanese ingredients in Western-styled food as a secret ingredient.
Can I cook authentic Japanese food outside of Japan?
Yes, you can! And you can cook much more deliciously and authentically than many Japanese restaurants you see on the street. Of course, there are some ingredients that are almost impossible to get outside of Japan, especially if you look for organic quality. Also, it is true that the particular water as well as soil in Japan make the food taste soft and gentle as well as so uniquely delicious and nourishing. However, it has been possible to cook Japanese food that can absolutely satisfy and delight my Japanese standard. It is, in fact, thanks to the good and organic quality of basic essential ingredients, which you can purchase today in many different countries. Just with those ingredients and some mindfulness, simple ingredients can turn out to become wonderful Japanese dishes. There is so much more than sushi, tempura, and other typical famous Japanese menus, and I am excited to share the tricks with you!
To learn more about basic seasonings for Japanese cooking, you can visit my article “7 Essentials for Authentic Japanese Vegan / Vegetarian Cooking.”
Are Japanese people vegetarian?
10 years ago, it was still hard to find vegetarian menus in many restaurants, even in Tokyo. So, the answer is NO. Perhaps because the animal protein from the sea or land in Japanese food is mostly served in moderate amounts along with many other vegetables and seaweed dishes. The idea of becoming vegetarian, however, has been growing very slowly in the country. At the same time, fine vegetarian food culture has been existing over many centuries. Shojin cuisine, which is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks, is strictly vegan. Also, a basic macrobiotic diet is vegan. But there are still smaller numbers of people who are exclusively following a vegetarian/vegan diet in Japan, and the awareness for the environmental impact by over consuming animal food has been low, unfortunately.
Are you vegan or vegetarian?
I eat 80-90% vegan here in California with my husband, and every meal we eat is filled with beauty, deliciousness, nutrients, and joy.
I make almost everything from scratch and arrange the menu in varieties with fresh organic seasonal produce. It is quite amazing when I think how my husband used to eat eggs, cheese, meat, and poultry regularly. He tells me always how delicious and satisfying every meal has been, which I am very grateful for. Also, he used to love many different kinds of sweets loaded with sugar. But now, he loves and enjoys so much the vegan sweets I make without cane-sugar and with a moderate amount of organic natural sweetener (fruits, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, barley malt, or brown rice syrup).
And yet, here is what I want to express: After going through different phases in my diet over these past decades, I consider today that “every food is medicine.” When I lived in Norway for six years, it helped me very much to eat goat cheese and very occasionally wild game or lamb that lived freely in the mountain to help maintain my energy in the dark and cold winter season. It was deeply humbling to experience how much it helped me to take care of my well-being during those times.
The very policy I have for myself is to receive the life force of nature into my body from the source that comes from a happy, peaceful, and sustainable environment and process. Thus, I love going to the farmers market and purchase directly from those who grow the food with their love and dedication.
The reason why I tend to gravitate towards an organic, plant-based diet is because I want to grow the well-being of both our bodies and this planet. Also, I choose to eat so because it is so delicious and our body feels very happy!
Why is Japanese food considered to be healthy?
Japan is one of the countries known for having the highest life expectancy, and the Japanese diet has been considered to be one of its major causes. In fact, the health benefits of Japanese food describes quite much the characteristics of Japanese cuisine itself. Here are some examples.
Balance and variety
Japanese food emphasizes the balance and variety. One meal would consist of different varieties of ingredients as well as ways of cooking. There is a word that tells how to compose the basic menu, “一汁三菜”(ichiju-sansai), which means one soup and three dishes. With rice as the staple food, the basic Japanese meal consists of a soup (most often miso-soup), one main dish, and two small side dishes. These dishes are also prepared in a variety of ways, such as simmered, steamed, raw, boiled, sautéed, grilled, and fried. Each dish is served in moderate amount, as the overall totality has to look and taste in balance and harmony. Also, through this variety, there is less use of oil for the meal in general.
Another key for the healthy diet is the abundant use of fermented foods. Besides some of the main seasonings used in cooking—soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin, and vinegar—which are all fermented, Japanese people eat different kinds of fermented food in their day to day diet. Umeboshi (fermented Japanese plum) or different kinds of Tsukemono (pickled vegetable) are very common things to have on the table regularly. Natto is the famous fermented soy beans which many foreigners (also some Japanese) have difficulty with because of their particular texture.
Appreciating seasonal food is a great part of Japanese cuisine. There are different foods that we look forward to eat in each season. As each seasonal vegetable carries the energy that supports our well-being to live in harmony with the particular season, Japanese people consider living and eating with the rhythm of season as a means of tending own health. You can learn more about the beauty of eating seasonal food in my article “7 Essentials for Authentic Japanese Vegan / Vegetarian Cooking.”
Dried vegetables and seaweeds
Lastly, in traditional Japanese food, there is good use of dried vegetables and seaweeds both of which are very healthy! Seaweed is loaded with healthy minerals and vitamins. Its fiber is also helpful to cleanse the intestines. Different dried foods have different health benefits. For example, dried shiitake mushroom and dried daikon is considered to be able to dissolve the old animal fat stored in the body and to cleanse it. Through the drying process, the nutritional value of the food multiplies. Also, through being dried under the sunshine, the food contains vitamin D.
There are other characteristics of Japanese food which contribute to the healthy diet, which I will write about in different places on my blog!
Is there any caution with cooking/eating Japanese food?
One of the main cautions needed is the use of salt. Japanese food could gravitate more towards the saltier side, as we use not only salt but also soy sauce, miso, as well as ume plum vinegar, all of which contain good amounts of salt. Health authorities recommend between 1,500 mg (1.5 grams) and 2,300 mg (2.3 grams) of sodium per day for heart health. The organic soy sauce that I use has 720mg per tbsp, organic ume plum vinegar has 420mg per tsp. You can see how it can add up quite easily.
And yet, there is a way to navigate this. I always distribute more use of salt for the dinner, and make salt-less breakfast and lunch. Saltiness not only brings satisfaction to our taste buds, but it also has a grounding energy and creates the warmth in the body through its yang energy. So, relatively speaking, it is suitable to take more for dinner to nurture the body at the end of the day, and less for breakfast and lunch to bring lightness and expansive (yin) energy.
Also, Japanese food doesn’t have to be too salty! With the use of vinegar, broth, sake, or spices, you can bring different depth and width in the flavor which allows us not to be dependent on salty flavor, which I am incorporating into my cooking as well. In the blog, the amount of salt I use is moderate. According to your health condition, lifestyle, and energetic state, please check with your body and with your intuition, what feels good for you, and modify if needed.
In fact, it is important to remember that salt is not our enemy but a very important and necessary element for our body. Natural salt is a great source of minerals as it not only contains sodium but also many different essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more. Thus, having a good quality of natural salt in our kitchen is very essential.
Another thing to pay attention to in the Japanese diet is soy beans. Unfortunately, there are many GMO soy beans out in the market, which might have been also causing mixed reputations for it in the world. In the Japanese diet, however, soy beans has been and continue to be a wonderful and essential source of protein. At the same time, soy beans have been always consumed more through the process of fermentation in Japan, such as natto or miso, and if not, cooked soy beans or tofu have been eaten in very moderate amount. In other words, drinking gulps of soy milk or eating lots of soy protein has not been in the traditional Japanese diet. Soy beans have a strong yin (cooling) energy and it is not recommended to consume large amounts if not fermented. Today, it is also scientifically proven that through the process of fermentation, different components of the soy beans which don’t benefit our health become transformed into a healthier food source. That is probably why in Asian countries, soy beans have been consumed through the process of fermentation for centuries in different forms. Although it is not a traditional Japanese food ingredient, I use organic tempe very often in my cooking. From time to time, I use organic tofu in moderation. And it is very important to purchase non-GMO and organic soy beans or soy products for the well-being of our body as well as the planet!
Is this blog following the principles of the macrobiotic diet?
I will answer no. And yet, the macrobiotic diet that I studied in Japan over 10 years ago has been a deep inspiration and guidance.
For me, macrobiotic is about cultivating our sensitivity to understand the energy of food ingredients, ways of preparation, as well as the state of our body and lifestyle through the spectrum of yin and yang. This embodiment allows us to discern and choose what and how to cook and eat, so that we can help both our inner and physical health to align with balance and harmony through diet. It is not necessarily about what you have to eat and what you should not eat.
In fact, I cook many dishes that are not following macrobiotic’s “guidelines.” For example, I incorporate different knowledge and approaches I learned from a raw vegan diet, which would contradict some of the notions in the macrobiotic guidelines. Also, I enjoy nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes very much in balance, especially when they are in season. I love making vegan, cane sugar-free dessert, where I use different natural alternative sweeteners rather than just brown rice syrup and barley malt. I love and eat bread regularly (my own organic whole spelt sourdough bread!!), which in macrobiotic principles are recommended for only an occasional menu.
The most important thing for me is to cook and eat something that is so wholesome and delicious that it fills my body, heart and soul with joy and nourishment. Life is a dance! It is ok to experience some off balance as long as we enjoy it so fully and know in our body what is the state of balance, and how we can return.